Sustainability standards are needed on a wider scale

Industries need to do more to implement minimum sustainability standards, according to procurement leaders.  

During a panel discussion at the CIPS/Supply Management Forum in London, a delegate raised the question of whether organisations are maintaining minimum threshold sustainability standards.

Cath Hill, group director at CIPS, said: “There are undoubtedly standards out there, but they are all developed by different organisations… [the question is] how can we make it easy for people to come up with that baseline to adhere to.

“CIPS have started doing some work with IEMA [The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment]… and one of the things we’ve been talking to them about is that there isn’t a common language and there isn’t a common understanding of what sustainability actually means. We’re looking to do some work with IEMA and some of the other professional bodies, including RICS [Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors], the accountancy bodies and the legal bodies, to come up with that common understanding and language.”

When Hill asked, few organisations admitted to having minimum thresholds for sustainability in place.

Guideline standards are available and these can help businesses outline effective minimum thesholds in sustainability for procurement. The International Standard for Sustainable Procurement (ISO 20400) was published in 2017 and was created through collaboration between more than 40 countries, with organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Trade Union Confederation.

Panagis Melas, procurement consultant at Infosys consulting, said: “Policy is not enough. We have to make sure we raise sustainability and believe in our daily practices. We have to come up with our [own] code of conduct.

"Then, we have to make sure we’re committed, that this [code of conduct] is embedded in our prices. It has to start with transparency of our supply chain.”

Doreen Menya, business manager of procurement at the University of Reading, advised that stakeholders need to be shown the bigger picture so they can look past the price and identify the value that comes from procuring sustainable products or services. Then sustainability policies can be pushed through a top-down approach.

“It’s also about ensuring the suppliers have an input too, that we can do some market testing and they can speak to our stakeholders. We need to make the suppliers aware that it’s serious, it’s their job and role to inform us and our stakeholders of sustainable products and services that they offer.”

Robert Wren, principle at Robert J. Wren Consulting, recommended: “If we can make it [the process] less complex, it may help people use sustainability supply chain systems more.”

A lot of supply chain management policies are too complex, and this can have a contradictory effect on the targets that were intended, he added.

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